By Robert Dixon
Exodus' Robert Dixon recently travelled to Morocco with his family.
Watch any movie featuring the splenders of the Sahara desert and your senses will be richly rewarded with endless shots of dazzling golden sands and perfectly-shaped dunes just waiting to be explored.
With these images in our mind the excursion to the Sahara was certainly going to be one of the highlights of our recent family holiday to Morocco.
Setting off early from our Bedouin Camp we were met by our guide and camels at Tazzarine. Not much sand here and no sand dunes in the distance but as our guide said “the movies don’t always show the reality of the Sahara and here near Tazzarine is at the northernmost part of the Sahara - an area known locally as the Sahro."
Our guide did however promise to take us to some sand dunes and an hour into our camel trek we weren’t disappointed.
“Running down the sand dunes and jumping was the best thing ever!” said my son Thomas, aged six.
As well as soft golden dunes, Morocco with its rich geological history, offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen. From rich reds and golden yellows to deep browns, Morocco’s High Atlas mountains are an artist's dream, as well as making lengthy drives from one destination to another a pleasurable experience. Shame the same can't be said for the M1.
To experience Morocco at its best, visitors should spend at least one night high up in the High Atlas at Tijhza village. After an hour’s walk (young children have the option of riding a mule up the trail) travellers are rewarded with spectacular views and a hot solar-heated shower. Most welcome after two days camping Bedouin style!
Once in the mountains, the group had the opportunity to work with the locals on a conservation project. On this occasion helping villagers to build a hammam (wet steam room). The group’s hard work is then rewarded with a highly-competitive football game in the village’s school playground. A game not to be taken lightly - I think the locals must of thought we had David Beckham in the squad, judging by the enthusiasm with which the local footballers played.
“I enjoyed playing football with the Moroccan children as it was different!” added Thomas.
With the mountains and Sahara Desert explored it was now time to visit one of Morocco’s finest cities. From Tijhza to Marrakech we had to cross over the main pass, Tizi'n'Tichka, which at 2,260m is the highest road pass in Morocco and is truly spectacular. There are rumours that the Moroccan government want to open up this gateway to the south by drilling in to the mountain rock and carving out a tunnel, so visitors can avoid this notorious road of sharp switch-backs, but for now we get to appreciate this infamous route through the clouds.
Famous for its crowded souks, snake charmers, pink-walled Kasbahs and chic French 'new town', it is not surprising that Marrakech is a destination in its own right.
Our first morning in the city was spent exploring the historical sights – a 16th century cemetery and the Royal Palace which although boasted some interesting architecture, otherwise not seen back in the UK, they were of not the highlight for most of the kids on the trip.
Marrakech is better explored at night when the heat of the day has been extinguished. Packed with locals and tourists alike the Djemma-el-Fna puts Leicester Square to shame with its eccentric snake charmers, magicians and acrobats. I still remember hearing about the mysterious and far-away city of Marrakech through the music of Crosby, Stills & Nash and their lyrics from the 1960s still describe the old town of Marrakech we found over 40 years later.
Colored cottons hang in the air,
Charming cobras in the square,
Striped djellebas we can wear at home,
Well, let me hear ya now,
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakech Express. (Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969).
With its warm climate, Morocco is an ideal destination at any time of year - although you should avoid the Sahara in the summer. We went during the October half-term week and those extra rays of sunshine are certainly helping us get through these dismal winter days in the UK. Even when a London bus passes by tantalising commuters with Moroccan Tourist Board promises of exotic dreams, it cannot but help bring a smile to our faces as we remember running down the sand dunes without a care in the world.
Robert travelled on Camels & Kasbahs (Family Holiday)